Ed#427 Giving and Growing

7 March 2013 Alan Attwood

Ed#427 Giving and Growing

Sometimes, timing works in our favour. Sometimes, not… Just one day before our last edition hit the streets, it was reported that WA-based billionaire Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest had embraced the Giving Pledge, started by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett in the US. Forrest and his wife, Nicola, thus became the first Australians to pledge to donate half their wealth to charity. Both the pledge and Forrest personally were mentioned in our last cover story, ‘Giving It All Away’. But the Forrests’ commitment came too late to discuss in that edition, though it is fascinating to speculate on the impact – if any – it might have had on another Western Australian billionaire, Gina Rinehart. The Forrests partly explained their decision in Christian terms: “Guided by the same principles of the book which inspired the successful leadership of our companies, the New Testament, we chose to help those least fortunate… Our aim is to significantly improve people’s lives and happiness through their own independent sustainability.”

Another who has signed up to the Giving Pledge recently is Richard Branson, the Virgin Group founder. Branson and his wife, Joan, have said they would like to help to create “a healthy, equitable and peaceful world for future generations to enjoy. ‘Stuff’ really is not what brings happiness. Family, friends, good health and the satisfaction that comes from making a positive difference are what really matters.” Branson – ranked considerably lower than both Rinehart and Forrest on Forbes’ list of global billionaires (his net worth is in the vicinity of US$4 billion) – just missed inclusion in our last edition. But he waltzes in here, and not only for his philanthropy. He has a beard! Indeed, he has had a beard for as long as he’s been in the public eye (which has always seemed his preferred place to be). Branson’s beard is not so much back as omnipresent.

Yet even someone as oblivious to fashion as myself has noticed something going on vis-a-vis men and beards; in particular, young men and beards. Big beards are all the go again. Beards that were once seen only on retired chaps in cardigans, or in 19th-century photographs of civic leaders (“What were they trying to hide?” a historian once asked), are now decidedly cool. It won’t last, of course, but we’re seizing this fleeting opportunity to be at the forefront of social trends.

My own whiskery phases never coincided with beards being fashionable. If I ever reflect on those times it is generally only to wonder: what was I thinking? But the thing that women, especially, need to understand about beards is that, sooner or later, most men will try growing one – even if it’s just to find out what happens. More often than not, results are unsatisfactory – certainly nothing as impressive as the beard worn on our cover by American comedian and actor Zach Galifianakis, who has had to refute suggestions he was actually born bearded. Last year, he appeared with Will Ferrell in a movie called The Campaign. For his role as an American Congressional candidate, Galifianakis lost his beard and wore only a moustache. This, I think, largely explains the movie’s underwhelming reception. Facial hair that splendid should be in the Smithsonian, not on the barber’s floor.

By the time the movie premiered, however, Zach’s beard was back. As they are generally, and not only on Cool Young Men. Consider some of this year’s Academy Award winners: a bearded Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln; a bearded Ben Affleck acting in, and directing, Argo. And did you notice who was up there with Affleck collecting a Best Picture Oscar? George Clooney, one of Argo’s co-producers. George Clooney with a beard. A very distinguished, very grey, very neatly trimmed beard. Damn he looked good. Watching on TV, women sighed; men stroked their chins thoughtfully…